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Raising Healthy Minds: Recalling June as PTSD Awareness Month

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Welcome to this month’s edition of “Raising Healthy Minds.” June is dedicated to a topic of great concern to our community. It is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. PTSD continues to be a concern for the armed forces, as those who have been in harm’s way live with the effects after returning home. This disorder can make life very difficult for those under its pervasive shadow and for their loved ones. My goal for this month is to bring a better understanding of it and the treatment available.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder occurring in individuals who’ve experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as an assault, combat or natural disaster. The National Center for PTSD reports that about seven to eight percent of the US adult population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, amounting to around eight million adults experiencing PTSD in a given year.

While PTSD comes from a variety of trauma, there are three hallmark symptoms to watch out for:

1. Re-experiencing trauma through intense recollections while asleep or awake.

2. Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that act as reminders of the trauma (triggers).

3. Increased psychological or physiological arousal, especially around triggers.

People may also have disturbing nightmares, sudden outburst of anger, irritability or other sudden psychological changes. They appear volatile and act in the “fight or flight” mode when distressed. It is important for those with PTSD and their loved ones to know the symptoms, recognize their own triggers and seek treatment immediately. With proper diagnosis, PTSD can be addressed and be resolved over time. PTSD is treated using numerous effective methods.

Some of the treatments available include counseling, peer support groups, medications and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR has yielded some very promising results. A licensed and EMDR certified therapist is able to provide the treatment. It works by having the therapist walk you through the traumatic event as your eyes follow a flashing light or the therapist’s finger. The movement simulates the rapid eye movement that takes place during deeper sleep, a time where our brains process our experiences.

As always, seek professional consultation. Your loved ones need to be involved as well. Mental health is a team effort. With proper treatment, support and some time, PTSD can be overcome. I encourage any veterans living with PTSD to seek out their peers and join the numerous support groups in the community. Knowing you are not alone goes a long way in healing. See you all next month and take care of your minds. I want to leave you with the following statement on PTSD from Cdr. Lee Martin, Intrepid Spirit Concussion Recovery Center Department Head.

“Post-traumatic stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal event, usuallyinvolving witnessing or experiencing threatened death or serious injury. Common events include combat, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Symptoms of post traumatic stress include avoiding thoughts or reminders of a traumatic event, being disturbed by memories or dreams of the event, and being physiologically on-edge. Those experiences are normal in the first few weeks following a traumatic event, but may need medical attention if they persist. Only a medical professional or mental health provider can diagnose post traumatic stress. Psychotherapy is a highly effective treatment for post traumatic stress. In a safe, non-judgmental, and supportive relationship, the therapist and counselor approach the traumatic event together, allowing natural feelings to run their course and dissipate. They also adjust any thoughts that may have been changed too much by the event. For example, those suffering might think everyone is dangerous and cannot be trusted.

A typical course of treatment lasts 12-16 weeks, meeting once per week for an hour. Most people report reduced symptoms by the fourth or fifth session, with continuing steady improvement thereafter. People who receive treatment for posttraumatic stress typically state, “I’m glad to have my life back,” “It doesn’t hurt anymore to remember, and I can sleep well again,” and “I feel closer to my family again.”

For more information on PTSD, visit https://www.ptsd.va.gov. For local PTSD resources, call the Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune, Intrepid Spirit Concussion Recovery Center, at 449-1100.

Editor’s note: “Raising Healthy Minds” is a monthly column that sheds light on mental health topics. DeWitt holds a B.S. degree in Psychology from Regent University. Facts not attributed are the opinions of the writer.